Category : Corporate Communications

content marketing conference

Why the CMA Content Marketing Conference in Edinburgh Rocked

What was so awesome about #CMALive17?

The minute I spotted the jar of sweets on the table, I knew this was my kind of conference…

Working as a solo entrepreneur undoubtedly has its advantages – such as no office politics, no psycho boss (whom you will never please however hard you try), no fights over who gets to use the microwave first during lunchbreak, and no embarrassing photos popping up on Facebook in the aftermath of the infamous office Christmas party…

However, there are also a few disadvantages of working on your own, and perhaps the most significant of these (apart from sitting alone at your laptop on Christmas Eve, munching a solitary mince pie…) is the lack of opportunity to ‘hang out’ with like-minded professionals.

That’s where events such as last week’s Content Marketing Academy conference, held at The Hub on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, come into their own for the freelancer or sole trader.

The stunning interior of the Edinburgh Festival Hub provided a suitably creative setting

Of course, conferences can be dull, and it was with a sense of blind optimism that one whole year ago, in June 2016, I dispatched a payment to the CMA via the virtual ether, in the fond hope that I’d be able to justify the experience in my mind as a form of ‘personal development’ – a factor that can be woefully neglected when you’re working for yourself.

June 2017 eventually came round and my hopes, as it transpired, had not been misplaced. Indeed, it rapidly became apparent during the first presentation of the conference – and the equally enlightening ones that followed it – that this event was going to be anything but dull (and I don’t just mean the ‘choice’ language being bandied about in a couple of the presentations!).

The use of expletives in modern content marketing was covered by several speakers

Advice and anecdotes concerning the latest technology and techniques used in content marketing flew thick and fast from the stage, fired by keynote speakers and lightning speakers alike. My long-neglected interpreting shorthand symbols, acquired during a four-year interpreting degree back in the 1980s, proved very useful for noting down as many of the myriad pearls of wisdom as possible.

Now back in the tranquil environment of my home office in the Kinross-shire countryside, I’ve tried to work out why the CMA conference – organised by the inimitable Chris Marr and his team – had such an impact on me and on many of the other delegates whom I had the pleasure of meeting there. How did it engage the 170 (or so) audience members so completely from 9am till 5pm each day?

Chris Marr, organiser of the CMA Content Marketing Conference, addresses the audience

On reflection, I believe the conference ‘worked’ so well because there was a tangible meeting of minds in the room – and this despite the facts that the attendees came from a wide range of business environments and that many had never met previously.

When I say ‘wide range’, that’s precisely what I mean. Naturally, there were the obvious candidates whom you’d expect to find at a conference which focuses on content marketing – copywriting/editing professionals, IT gurus, photographers and website designers.

However, there were also attendees representing many other businesses – including recruitment companies, hairdressers, manufacturers and financial advisors. And we all had one thing in common: we wanted to know how to make our content ‘sing’ from the screen to potential customers, encouraging them to engage with our businesses and (eventually) buy our product or service.

I use the word ‘eventually’ intentionally here, because one of the key messages that emerged across the two days was that you can’t simply flog products and services to potential/existing customers in the way that used to be done in the good old pre-internet days.

Today’s customers are more capricious; they have to be ‘courted’ and ‘flirted with a little’, so they begin to like (better still, love) what you do. And that process inevitably takes time.

As speaker Mark Schaefer emphasised in his presentation, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul and “adopt a 30-month mindset”, as two and a half years is the average period likely to elapse before you can expect to reap the fruits of your content marketing labours.

You may even fail first-time round if your product or your marketing messaging isn’t quite right, and that might mean starting all over again. However, one thing is certain: if you don’t ever start that all-important conversation with your potential customers, your chances of success are virtually zero.

The conversation can take place at many levels and – in this 21st-century digital age – on many platforms. However, it’s wise not to dive headlong on to too many platforms, as a scattergun approach can dilute the strength and effectiveness of your brand.

There was much to ponder by the end of the conference. Each delegate no doubt took home something different, as certain presentations were naturally more relevant to our own specific business situations than others. For anyone who’s interested, I’ve compiled a selection of the points which seemed most relevant to my own two small businesses.

CMALive17: My Points to Ponder


“By 2020, 90% of all online content will be video, and a good chunk of that will be live video.”

“You need to become someone’s favourite.”

“Create content that solves problems, e.g. ‘How to…’ guides.”

“Consistently provide value.”

“Only include one call-to-action per video.”

“Schedule every minute of the day.”


“Keep your marketing strategy simple: set your goal; define your offer; plan content marketing activity to support your strategy.”

“Talk your customers’ lingo; don’t use jargon or mumbo-jumbo management speak; avoid the curse of knowledge.”

“It’s important to find a simple one-liner that sums up your business, e.g. ‘Your cat sits on our mat’ for a cat mat manufacturer.”

“Avoid the passive voice.” (In other words, don’t say ‘The passive voice should be avoided’!)

“Think big. Act small. Act humble.”

The slide above shows what can happen to a simple strapline as a company grows…


“When networking, follow up with emails and do not sell hard.”

“Just keep in touch with prospective customers – no pressure.”

“You will win more friends in a two-month period being ‘interested in’ your customers than in two years of trying to ‘sell to’ them.”


“Swearing makes up 3.4% of normal everyday speech.”

“First person plural pronouns (such as we/our/us) only make up 1% of everyday language.”

“English speakers in the States use 80 to 90 swear words per day on average.”

“The use of expletives in marketing can do all the following: surprise; indicate confidence; resonate with like-minded customers; make you sound authentic; make what you’re saying humorous; add mojo to your voice.”


“Stop hunting elephants.” (In other words, stop going after big ‘trophies’ instead of focusing on what you actually do well.)

“Be vulnerable, and that means not always being right. Be compassionate and be human.”

“Reframe what you think about fear and how you use it.”

“When you meet someone new, don’t just ask the usual ‘So what do you do?’”

“Ask prospective customers a ‘big universal question’ to open up the conversation, e.g. ‘Have you ever been stuck?’ or (if your service happens to be making videos) ‘Have you ever wished that all the time, energy and money invested in your video content could make you look like the rock star you are?’ This will then allow you to outline how your product or service can solve your potential customer’s problem.”

Mark Schaefer spoke about the difference between being ‘famous’ and being ‘known’


“Technology is changing consumer behaviour – it’s no longer enough to develop customer loyalty.”

“The ‘ping, ping, ping’ approach (i.e. drip-feeding info) no longer works. Nowadays you need to be ‘known’.”

“Being ‘known’ is not the same as being ‘famous’. It means being recognised by your (existing and potential) customers for what you do – or your company does – well. No one is born ‘known’ – this status has to be earned over time through developing your authority, presence and reputation.”

“You need your customer to feel ‘hugged’ by your brand. You need to be somebody’s favourite and fight every day to stay that way.”

“There is no shortcut. You must put in the work and create good content.”

“If you follow a dream without a plan, you have a hobby and not a business.”

“Pick one thing and master it. Don’t be a magpie and get distracted. Remember there is a human cost to everything you do, so be selective with your content marketing.”

“If you’re blogging, make sure you have a unique angle (e.g. there are numerous food bloggers, but one has differentiated herself by featuring famous recipes from TV or films).”

“The internet is just beginning. There’s been no better time in history to start than right now!”


“Avoid the content crickets” (i.e. don’t just keep firing content out that is not relevant to people or all you’ll hear in response is the chirping of crickets and no human engagement).

“Define in three words or phrases the brand values that make you unique. And don’t use words such as ‘friendly and professional’, as these are baseline values for every company.”

“Create a ‘content stamp’ – your unique mark that makes you stand out from your competitors.”

“When writing a mission statement for your company, use the following format: ‘I’m going to ________________ for ________________ so they can ______________________, because ________________.”

“Develop an avatar for your audience, and not just their demographic but also the problems they encounter.”

“Identify your arch enemy then be different.”

“Develop your readily identifiable ‘lingo’, e.g. have a few catchphrases such as blogger Joe Wicks’s “lean in 15” or “prep like a boss.”

“Don’t choose to deliver content to your customer using the way you want – deliver it in the way your customers want.”

“Make your content shareable for one of these five reasons: brand advocacy; emotions (content that makes the reader feel smart, scared, amused or inspired); appearance (how will sharing it make them look); causes and beliefs (your customers’ causes and beliefs, that is); high value.”


“When attempting to get PR for your small business, start with ‘low-hanging fruit’, e.g. a press release about a new product or service.”

“Another way of attracting media attention is to tweet using the hashtag #journorequest – this allows people with stories to connect with journalists who are interested in covering similar stories.”

“’Newsjack’ a story that is in the press. For example, if Jeremy Vine is featuring an item on a scenario that is familiar to you, call the BBC to alert them to your expertise in or personal experience of this matter. It might lead to your story gaining welcome PR for your brand.”

“Teach your reader something (e.g. write a ‘How to…’ article).”

“Develop your own stories to pitch to the media about a variety of areas (relationships/family/money/work/life and death/hobbies and interests), but always relate the story back to your business.”

“Tell stories that people want to hear and not the stories you want to tell.”

“When pitching to journalists, use a powerful but succinct 10-word (max.) top line to hook the editor’s interest, e.g. ‘I photographed every doorway I slept in’ or ‘I sacked my dad.’”


“My maths teacher told me I’d never amount to anything and six months later I dropped out of school. Now I work with Marcus Sheridan.” (Ed: For anyone not at CMALive17, Marcus was one of the keynote speakers at the conference and is very highly regarded in the field of content marketing.)

“You don’t need to be a nerd or a brainiac – you do need to focus on growth mindset and not be afraid to use the tools.”

“There are numerous technical tools and software products out there, some of which are free. Examples worth exploring include Slimstats, Monster Insights, YoastSEO, Mautic and Social Warfare.”

“Make your ‘complex’ as simple as possible.”

Marcus Sheridan talked about the importance of playing to your strengths


“Never let your schooling get in the way of your education.”

“Beware of becoming a ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’.”

“If necessary, let go of some of your goals. Don’t marry your goals: marry progress. Goals are a compass, but be ready to pivot.”

“Define your KPIs (be that the number of enquiries, number of conversions, gross revenue, margin…) carefully. Stick to the metrics that matter in your business.”

“Don’t assume that engagement means business. You could have 10,574 comments on a post but get no conversions from that post.”

“When blogging, be sure to include images, not make it too long and structure the text in an attractive, easy-to-read way. Remember to include a call to action at the end!”

“Let go of any negative feedback (10%) and focus on the positive feedback (90%). Ignore the doubters and the haters.”

“One of the greatest tools in the world is asking the right questions at the right time.”

“Do what your competitors don’t do. If your clients ask … answer their questions. This includes talking about the negatives of your own products or services, and being prepared to talk about your competitors.”

“Own your story – it’s what has made you!”

That’s a lot of content marketing wisdom to absorb

As you can see from the above lengthy list of helpful tips, there was a lot of content marketing knowhow to take on board – and I would stress that these snippets only scratch the surface of everything that was mentioned over the two days. I’ve not even touched on the fantastic lightning presentations by Col Gray and Ross Coverdale, Yva Yorston, Sharon Menzies, Cara Mackay, Pamela Laird, Karen Reyburn and Danielle Sheridan, all of which were as inspiring as they were insightful.

On Friday night, after a quick detour via Murrayfield to watch Robbie Williams in concert, I returned to my rural ivory tower, resolved to implement at least some of the new knowledge gleaned at #CMALive17 in my own two small businesses. Fortunately, I’ve never had any remote desire to be famous. However, I do want to succeed in business, so I will undoubtedly draw on what I learned at the conference when planning future content marketing activities for Euroword and The Learning Cauldron, and perhaps one day (at least 30 months from now!) I might even become ‘known’…

Never managed to get to speak to these guys at the conference – perhaps next year…

hedgehog curled up into a ball

Do you curl up and ignore your copy deadline or get writing?

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” ― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

A friend once compared the process of creating fresh copy to that of giving birth… but without the pain relief. Any of us who have sat staring at a blank piece of paper (or blank screen), bereft of words or ideas and downright daunted by the prospect of starting a report, presentation or web copy, will no doubt identify with that analogy.

So how to break the deadlock? Here are three tips to help you get started

1.       Throw your perfectionism out the window and just write. Even if you know in your heart of hearts that what you’re writing is nowhere near the succinct, well-crafted document that will eventually become your final version, the very act of making a start can help unlock your mind and allow more coherent ideas to emerge through your reluctant writerly haze. Write down anything about the topic that comes into your mind, confident in the knowledge that you can edit it to your heart’s content later.

2.       Take a thought shower. I began by writing “brainstorm” here then remembered that this term – popularised by Alex Faickney Osborn in the 1953 book Applied Imagination – is now deemed offensive. So I promptly changed it to the (albeit not quite as succinct or evocative, but more politically correct) 21st century alternative. Whatever you may wish to call this process of exchanging ideas with others, the basic precept is the same: two (or more) heads are better than one. Even a brief discussion with colleagues at the water dispenser might provide the inspiration you need to get you started.

3.       Read. As any writing coach will tell you, one way to become a good writer is to read, read and read some more. And although we all know to avoid plagiarism like the… er… plague and we aspire to write unique copy at all times, the process of immersing ourselves, even briefly, in what others have previously written on similar subjects may well sow the seed of an original idea – even if only because we vehemently disagree with the other writer’s opinion!

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
― Ernest Hemingway



photo of two editing books

Five tips to help you compile a company style guide

Whether you’re a sole trader or a multinational organisation that employs thousands of people worldwide, it’s important to ensure your corporate tone of voice remains consistent across all your documents, presentations, promotional print, and social media platforms. However, as you may already have discovered in your own business, this is easier said than done…

Let’s be honest: it’s hard enough to remain consistent in your use of the English language when there’s just one of you generating copy. Multiply that by tens, hundreds or even thousands of texts being written by myriad writers in a larger company, and suddenly the task of remaining consistent in your turn of phrase and terminology escalates to one of gargantuan proportions.

I’ve mentioned before the concept of having a corporate style guide to help address this issue of consistency. So here are five tips to help you start compiling a guide which you can give to anyone writing text for your company:

  1. Decide how formal/informal you wish to sound in your communications with your customers. My previous blog post No ducking out of it: your business needs a consistent tone of voice talked about the different ways you can address your readership (e.g. “you” or “our customers”) or indeed refer to yourselves (“we” or “Messrs Brown & Co.”), as well as examining various other techniques that determine formality or informality of tone.
  2. Compile a list of in-house terminology that has been agreed for use by your company. Every industry has its own jargon and even within individual branches of a business, an in-house vocabulary will evolve.  The interesting thing about jargon is that often those using it are so familiar with this (to them) everyday terminology, they don’t appreciate that someone new to the company might not understand what certain terms mean – far less feel confident about including them in a report or presentation. By providing your writer(s) with  a list of the specialist terms or specific words and phrases that your business uses regularly, you’ll make it easier for new additions to your team to become conversant with your in-house style rather than drown in a sea of unfamiliar vocabulary.
  3. Clearly set out in your style guide any words or turns of phrase that your company does not wish to use (or at least would prefer to avoid using, wherever possible) in its written materials. For example, it may be company policy to refer to people who buy your products as “customers” and never “clients”, or vice versa.  You might wish to ban completely the use of the word “change” in your commercial documents and insist on using “improvement” or “enhancement”, etc. However, you can’t expect a new member of staff to know, without being told, these small – yet significant – details.
  4. Stipulate whether you wish to use UK or US spelling in your corporate communications (e.g. UK spelling “organise” or US spelling “organize”, “favour” or “favor”, “colour” or “color”, “labour” or “labor”…). When you’re proofreading any text that you or your colleagues have written, always run a search for common US or UK variants, depending on which spelling you wish to banish from your prose. And remember to exercise extreme caution when using the search and replace facility – for reasons that I mentioned in a previous post Spellcheckers – the proofreader’s friend or foe
  5. Flag up regular offenders, i.e. words that you’ve noticed staff writing about your company’s products or services sometimes mix up or get wrong. This may vary from company to company or even from department to department, but over a period of time, a content manager or communications manager will begin to identify certain “rogue” spellings or incorrect word choices that pop up again and again. Just to give you an idea of the sort of thing I’m talking about, here are three that seem to dog many people who write corporate copy:
  • Practise vs practice: I’m presuming that most of the people reading this blog will be using UK English in their documentation. If so, “practice” is a noun, e.g. “There is a new veterinary practice opening in town…” or “My music practice starts at 7  p.m. every evening…” The other spelling (with an “s”) is reserved for the verb e.g. “Tomorrow I’m going to practise my golf swing.” NB: American English uses just one spelling for both noun and verb (“practice”).
  • Loose vs lose: In basic terms, if you are referring to the verb that means to mislay something then use “lose”, e.g. “He loses his tie every morning.” If you are describing a new pair of trousers that is too large for you round the waist (I wish!!) then you want the adjective “loose”.
  • 1960s  vs 1960’s: No apostrophe is required if you simply mean the decade of the 1960s, as this is a plural noun, not a possessive, e.g. “I went to every Beatles concert held in the 1960s.”  However, if you are talking about the best-selling record of the specific year 1960 then you would write, “This was 1960’s biggest hit.”

So complex is the process of maintaining a consistent style across hundreds of documents that these pointers are, admittedly, just the tip of the textual iceberg. However, at least they will give you a good foundation upon which to start building your very own company style guide. Good luck!




No ducking out of it: your business needs a consistent tone of voice


Do you sometimes judge people by their looks? A recent article on a BBC website suggests that most of us do.

However, when it comes to making a good impression in business, there are other factors to consider, too. One of these is the corporate identity that your business or organisation creates through its communications, which means you need to choose your words extremely carefully when “speaking” in your corporate guise, e.g. on your website, on Twitter or on Facebook – or indeed in your printed promotional materials.

One aspect to bear in mind when writing about your business – and its products or services – is that it’s important to be consistent in tone and style, which means maintaining a consistent “tone of voice”. You’ve no doubt heard that expression before many times, but what does it really mean in an everyday copywriting situation? It means, quite simply, how you say what you say.

Here are three handy tips to help you establish (and then maintain!) a corporate tone of voice:

1. Decide whether your company is going to “speak” in the:

  • Informal first person plural voice (“We supply first-class widgets…”).
  • Informal first person singular voice (“I am the world’s leading expert in… “).
  • Formal third person plural voice (“Brown Brothers produce….”).
  • Formal third person singular voice (“Our company believes that…” or “Jason Smithers is a master plumber with 30 years’ experience…”).

You should also decide whether you are going to refer to your customer in the third person (e.g. “Our customers know they can rely on us to…”) or whether you prefer to take a more direct, informal approach and address customers directly in the second person (e.g. “When you commission us to design your home, you can count on receiving impeccable customer service from us at every stage of the design process…”).

2. Having decided whether to use the formal third person voice or the less formal first and second person voices, you then have to ensure that all text emanating from your organisation reflects this same “tone”.  For example, if you have opted for the formal register, here are three things to avoid:

  • Contractions (e.g. can’t, won’t, doesn’t) – instead use the full version (e.g. cannot, will not, does not).
  • Starting sentences with “but” or “and”. This used to be tantamount to sacrilege in written English and is still frowned upon in formal English texts. However, these days you’ll often see “and” or “but” at the start of sentences in informal texts, as this reflects more accurately the way we actually speak.
  • Colloquialisms and idioms. Let’s look at this in practice… Colloquial version: “Our customers always rave about our fab work.” Formal version: “Our customers are always extremely impressed by our exemplary workmanship.”

If you’ve decided you’re more comfortable with an informal tone of voice then feel free to use abbreviated words. And to start sentences with conjunctions (as we just did) or to use expressions such as “OK” and “Our company is the cat’s pyjamas” (unless you happen to manufacture feline nightwear, in which case you’d say “Our company supplies cats’ pyjamas…).

3. Ensure that everything you or your colleagues say (on Twitter, on Facebook, on your website, in your printed promotional materials and documents) reflects your brand values. To get you started, it can be helpful to spend some time choosing three or four words or phrases that encapsulate what your organisation is all about. Here are some well-known examples to get you started:

  • Apple: inspiration, dream, innovation.
  • Innocent: humorous, unpretentious, upbeat.
  • Red Bull: daring, adventurous, energetic.
  • Euroword: creative, professional, word gurus (admittedly, this brand isn’t quite as well known as the others… yet!)

Then remind anyone in your organisation who is writing text on behalf of the company to reflect these “distilled down” tenets in everything they write – or, indeed, say (e.g. in public presentations or press interviews). That way, your communications will remain consistent and on message, making the right impression on anyone who encounters your company online or in person for the first time.

If you’re interested in seeing more of the BBC article referred to above, have a look for yourself – it makes fascinating reading. In a subsequent Euroword blog post, we’ll look at why having a style guide for your company or organisation is helpful, and how to go about compiling one. Meanwhile, enjoy developing your company’s individual tone of voice, and once you’ve decided on the three words that characterise your organisation, feel free to post them on our EurowordUK Facebook page.